One thing that I get a lot of as an online teacher is requests for sessions, usually for help with IELTS preparation, not surprisingly. This is good, I like helping people to get the band scores they need, and the fact that they pay me doesn’t hurt either. However, one thing that I don’t like is when people contact me, on some occasions, a matter of days before they are due to take the test, and it is obvious that they are not adequately prepared. They are simply not ready for the test and it is obvious they will not get the score they want.
I do the best I can to help, they usually want help with speaking practice or maybe they have some writing tasks they want me to give feedback on. However, this can be taken to ridiculous lengths. I have had people contact me a matter of days, and I mean days, before the test date where it is obvious that I cannot properly prepare them in such a short period of time. I don’t know why this is so, maybe they had no money for lessons for a full training course or whatever.
This brings me to my point, that many people massively underestimate the time it takes to prepare for the test. For example, I had one student contact me a while ago, with ten days before his due date. He had been reading all these course books about the test, but his general level of English in terms of grammar and vocab were not sufficient to get a good score. He also had had no opportunity for speaking practice, so I had my work cut out for me given the amount of time we had left. This is not unusual, I have had students from several countries do the same thing. They have been reading books such as “Ten days to crack the IELTS” or “Ace the IELTS in a week”, etc. There are many of these titles doing the rounds, I have seen a few for the Chinese market and they are nearly worthless. To illustrate, the book had a series of templates of expressions and phrases which you were supposed to memorise and merely change the topic for the question. I tested one girl, who had been preparing with such a book, and it was obvious as soon as she started speaking that she was reciting a memorised answer. She had prepared a topic based around these stock phrases and committed it to mind and simply repeated it to me. I could tell because she spoke in a monotone and it sounded very false and unnatural, also, when I asked her another question, she said the same thing, with some minor changes for the next topic!!!! And then she wondered how I knew….regardless of how I knew, the key point here is that the examiner will simply ignore you if he or she thinks you are repeating a memorised answer! So be warned!..
So, as I always tell my students, there are two things to consider before taking the IELTS. The first is to make you sure you improve your all round English abilities. This must come before you even think about taking the IELTS, you need to be at least a good, strong, intermediate to upper-intermediate level first. As we know, learning new vocabulary takes a long time and is not something to do in a matter of weeks, not to mention grammar, etc. This really needs to be started long before you think of taking the IELTS, then there is learning and understanding the exam itself. The format, the assessment criteria, the different question types, the strategies you need to learn for each section, etc. If you have any course books, most of them will tell you that it can take between one to three months to increase your band score by 0.5 of a point. This is of course, depends on how much time you spend on it taking other commitments into account.
The second, important thing is to set yourself realistic, achievable aims, and commit to a regular programme of study. Last minute cramming for all four skills is essentially a waste of time. You really need to build your knowledge steadily and regularly, then when your teacher says you are ready, you can apply for the test date.
To sum up, you need to prepare well, months in advance, and you need to study consistently and constantly. as well as having a good teacher who can support and guide you along the way. Taken together, these will go a long way to help you get the band score you need.
I know I said that books alone are not the solution, but if you must have a coursebook, and I suppose you must. Allow me to recommend The Official Cambridge Guide to IELTS